The St. Louis Blues are built on depth, which is a valuable asset for an organization to have. They have a lot of quality depth which carries over to their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Springfield Thunderbirds.
Difficult decisions must be made when a team has this much depth. Depth signings such as Matthew Highmore, Josh Leivo, and others will be competing for lineup spots throughout training camp.
Ivan Barbashev – Brayden Schenn – Jake Neighbours
This line will be a huge hitting and scoring presence, even if Ivan Barbashev and Brayden Schenn’s scoring drops, while Jake Neighbours could be sent to the AHL if things don’t work out early in the season.
Schenn and Barbashev play a similar style. Neighbours is a power forward with the skills to make him a fantastic fit with these two. This line should provide a lot of pop and power, and that is what the Blues will want from their third line.
Barbashev had a breakout season in 2021-22, scoring 26 goals and 60 points. That might be the peak of his career, but I think he can provide some scoring in 2022-23. He does enough to make him a reliable third-line player where scoring isn’t the biggest part of his game. Schenn had 58 points last season, but it didn’t feel that way because he struggled at times, partly because of injury.
Barbashev and Schenn would be great linemates for Neighbours, but I don’t expect this line to be together for the entirety of the season. With development being the main priority for Neighbours, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him play in the AHL for parts of this season. I’m looking forward to watching the hits thrown from this trio.
Nathan Walker – Noel Acciari – Klim Kostin (Alexey Toropchenko)
There are plenty of options for this line who are likely to end up in the AHL but could be called up later in the season. Noel Acciari is a veteran center, and the wingers with him will dictate how this line performs. Any choice will be controversial, but that is what comes with having so much depth.
This will be the final chance for Klim Kostin to make the NHL. He hasn’t received the best opportunities from the organization, but he also hasn’t performed well when given those opportunities. Last season, he scored nine points in 40 games while averaging less than 10 minutes of ice time, and so far, it’s been a disappointing career, making this his last shot to prove himself. He should not start the season anywhere other than the fourth line.
As for Nathan Walker, he has made the most of his opportunities in the NHL. Last season, he scored eight goals and four assists in 30 games. Expectations are far lower for him than for Kostin, which makes it easier to praise him. However, Walker’s role isn’t exactly secure since the Blues will likely switch up their fourth line a lot. However, he is the perfect spark player, so he should be used as such.
Most importantly with this line is that Alexey Toropchenko is likely to return in December after offseason shoulder surgery. He will fit right into this line and could even move up when he returns. Look for players like Leivo, Highmore, and Logan Brown to get looks as fourth-line players throughout the season, but the glue that will hold this line together is Acciari, and he fits well in that role.
Blues’ Forward Group
The Blues’ bottom-six became slightly weaker on paper with the loss of David Perron. With the loss of Perron, they won’t have Brandon Saad or Jordan Kyrou on the third line. But their depth is holding them together, and that will mean a lot of opportunities will open up for intriguing players.
The Blues will try everything to make their bottom-six valuable. I trust head coach Craig Berube to make the proper lineup decisions as he has given no indication that he can’t do the job well. However, the two bottom-six players to watch this season will be Kostin and Barbashev for the exact opposite reasons.
I have been covering sports for nearly a decade. I started with FanSided as a Baseball Contributor. Now I am writing about the NHL and the St. Louis Blues for The Hockey Writers. I grew up in Central Illinois as a huge fan of every sport. Finally, I do various podcasting across all major platforms.